It’s safe to say the sky is no longer falling in Toronto.
After a miserable start to 2020-21 — mired with trade ideas and whispers of tanking — the Raptors are slowly coming around and finally, thankfully, played a complete game on both ends of the floor tonight.
With a 116-93 drubbing of the Mavericks, Toronto showed their best selves on the defensive end of the floor. They held Dallas to just 37.8% shooting from the field and 25% from three, won the turnover battle 16-14, and tallied nine steals. While the Mavericks were admittedly under-staffed thanks to COVID-19 health and safety protocols — with four rotation pieces sitting out — they still had Luka Doncic. The Raptors, to their credit, did a number on him. The improving superstar was held to just 15 points on 4-for-11 shooting (0-for-3 from three) and was never able to get into a groove with multiple bodies flying at him.
The Raptors also got a throwback performance from Kyle Lowry, who has been in much of those should-he-or-should-he-not-be-traded conversations over the last number of weeks. Lowry was sensational on Monday, especially in the third quarter, where the Raptors have struggled all season when returning to their starters.
The Toronto point guard simply was not going to let that happen against Dallas, as he orchestrated a pivotal stretch where the Raptors stretched their lead into double-digits. In the end, Lowry had 23 points (9-for-12), nine rebounds, and seven assists — just a few notches shy of a triple-double.
Beyond Lowry, this really was a team effort from the core of the Raptors rotation. Pascal Siakam shook off a poor shooting start to finish with 19 points and five assists. After going just 1-for-7 from the field in the first quarter, Siakam would go 6-for-12 the rest of the game and was another critical part of the Raptors opening things up in the third.
Toronto also got good bench performances from Norman Powell (17 points on 11 shots) and Stanley Johnson, who has steadily become more, well, steady with his defensive presence — taking a crack at several Mavericks in the middle of the Raptors’ schemes in his 21 minutes (effectively the team’s eighth man again).
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also talk about sudden Sixth Man of the Year candidate Chris Boucher, who continued a magical run of performances off the pine on Monday. Scoring 21 points and grabbing ten boards, Boucher was once again a hero of plus-minus (and a saving grace from the scoreless Aron Baynes), marking a game-high +19.
The game started with both teams playing solid defence — or just missing shots, depending on your prerogative. Both teams were under 35% shooting in the first frame, which featured Mavs coach Rick Carlisle getting an early ejection for complaining to the officials. It also ended up being the game’s only spark, as the teams combined to score just 40 points in the first.
In the second, the Raptors bench played well in the transition minutes. Powell and Johnson were especially solid, with the former making smart drives to the basket and the latter walling off a lot of Dallas action. As this came with Doncic on the bench, the Raptors were able to build a nine-point lead.
That disintegrated, though, when the starters returned, as they were unable to keep pace offensively. Monday struggles especially hit Fred VanVleet — maybe the only forgettable Raptor tonight, as he finished with six points on 2-for-10 shooting. The teams went into the halftime break tied at 47.
The third was a saving grace, though. Siakam backed up a tough half with some great decisions in the half-court, setting up back-to-back threes for Lowry and OG Anunoby. Then, Lowry took the game over — scoring some tough buckets and imposing his will on both ends of the floor. Add some Boucher jumpers to the mix and the Raptors took an 81-72 lead into the fourth, and only built it up from there. We even got some glorious garbage time lineups, with all of Matt Thomas, Paul Watson, Malachi Flynn, DeAndre Bembry and Yuta Watanabe getting out of the dog house to get a run in. Shout out to them.
With their third straight win, the Raptors are now 5-8 and just a game out of sixth place in the East. (Heck, they’re just 3.5 back of first.) Plenty of basketball is yet to be played, and the team will try to keep climbing on Wednesday as they host Miami.